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Holly Dai Oral History Interview, January 19, 2020

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is January 19, 2020. My name is Laurie Kurutz, pronouns she/hers. Would you please introduce yourself? Say your pronouns if you care to and tell us all the things you do.

HOLLY DAI: Okay. My name is Holly Dai and my pronouns are she/her. I am a Burlesque performer, I am a seamstress or actually a clothing designer, I am a Burlesque producer, as well as... What else do I do? All the creative things that I can think of.

LK: Great. So, starting off with a big question: What is Burlesque?

HD: That is an interesting question. Burlesque really kind of falls into the beginning back in the early 18th century. Actually, middle 18th century it started. "Burlare" is the Latin word for "to laugh" and it was kind of a satire. 00:01:00What it is now is not what it was then, but it started from Lydia Thompson coming into the United States kind of in these risqué clothing options. Even the nude tight was introduced. And eventually, after these women were parading the satirical things that were happening currently, it became synonymous with the strip tease. So, a lot of times Burlesque is kind of, it can be anywhere from grungy gritty to fancy show production strip tease elements of performance art.

LK: And what's the difference between stripping in a club and Burlesque stripping?

HD: Sometimes I like to say that if you can fit... I think I've heard someone say this before: if you can fit your costume in your hand, you're probably not a Burlesque performer. There is a lot more detail that goes into a lot of the 00:02:00costuming, and that's not to say that stripping doesn't have necessarily those costumes, but Burlesque performers are a lot more in control sometimes of why they're stripping or if they're definitely going to get paid. They're not dependent on necessarily an audience. It's kind of that complete dependence on audience tipping them per. Most strippers, when they dance, they get paid if someone is going to pay them, and they have to sometimes perform whether or not they're going to. And a lot of times, there is more nudity involved, whereas Burlesque only gets down to at most pasties and a G-string, depending on the local decency laws.

LK: And how do you describe the kind of Burlesque that you do?

HD: I do what is known as classic Burlesque. There's kind of two... I mean 00:03:00there's more than two ideologies of Burlesque, but it's kind of split into Neo and Classic, and I typically fall into the more Classic style. And that is thought to be more of throwback to more of the forties, fifties, and thirties era and with gowns and beautiful dresses with the sparkles and rhinestones. A little more of a parade and peel kind of look, verses Neo which can be more thematic. Maybe like you're a Batman character coming out and you have like big "pow" signs, that's a little more Neo. I think that they're both very viable, and not one is better than the other, but I typically kind of am drawn to making kind of elaborate costumes that kind of are naturally seen with most Classic numbers.

LK: Well, that partially answers my next question of: Why Burlesque? Why 00:04:00Burlesque for you?

HD: I feel like the dancing is okay for me. I really like the costumes. I think that maybe I just really liked all of those prom dresses back in the day that I always wanted to have but never could afford to be around: those really big, puffy things. And I was able to kind of get more creative with making stuff and adding all the glitz and the glamor on a regular basis with the costumes. That's my favorite part really about Burlesque in general, is the creativity that goes into making the costumes. It's actually my most judgy part, too, when I see someone who is performing and their costume is "eh" I'm like, "Oh, come on, costume." But it doesn't make the performance completely... There are definitely some performances that don't have the greatest costumes, but the performance is great. But it's my favorite part about Burlesque.

LK: So, where were you born and where did you grow up?


HD: I was born in Seattle, Washington. I grew up in San Diego, though. I was only in Seattle for three weeks so it doesn't feel like it really counts, but somehow it helps appease people who are like, "You're a Californian." But yeah, I grew up in San Diego and then I moved to Seattle when I was twenty, and I moved to Portland a couple of years after that.

LK: And are you from an artistic family?

HD: You know, my mom is very artistic. My sister's artistic, my mom's artistic, but not like the way that I am. What I think is really encouraging about my mom is she always was the kind of person who, for every holiday, she would always have us make stuff. So, there would always be some kind of craft thing and she still does that with my sister's kids. For Thanksgiving, they'll go for a walk and they'll all pick up pinecones and they'll make turkeys. And for Valentines day, they always hand make their cards. So we always did something. She was always encouraging me. If she wanted something from me, she'd rather it be made 00:06:00than necessarily be bought. And she still, even to this day, is like, "Just make me a card. Make me this thing." So, yeah.

LK: And so then, what did bring you to Oregon?

HD: Initially a boy. Yeah, and then we broke up and I liked it here, still. I definitely felt like people were a lot kinder. I moved to Seattle because I thought I had been going up and visiting almost every year as a young teenager. The environment seemed really nice. And when I finally moved to Seattle, I didn't feel like it was super friendly. It felt very cold, I barely had any friends. However, I did discover Burlesque from Seattle and then I moved to Portland, and it was just a lot more friendly, and what I thought Seattle was going to be.

LK: You already described a little bit of the creativity in your family. What else did you do in your formative years that lead you to performance?

HD: I wasn't really... I'm not very graceful, unless I concentrate. With dance, 00:07:00especially even sports, like I cannot catch a ball very well. I played softball one season and was like, "I can't do this." My sister was a soccer player, she was a swimmer, and I did not like sports at all. And when I got into high school, you were required to take your first year, you're a freshman, has to be PE. I got C's in PE and it's not because I was unathletic, I just hated running, I hated everything about sports. So, when I got to freshman year in high school, you were required to take PE and you could take dance, but it doesn't count for PE credit until your second year of dance. But you're only required to have three years of classes, so I somehow convinced my counselor, begged him, even though it was not allowed, to drop me from PE and promised, swore up and down, 00:08:00that I would take dance all four years of high school just so that I could not do PE. And I started taking dance classes in high school. As far as other artistic steps, I've been taking painting and art classes since I was in sixth grade, and took two years of AP art in high school, as well.

LK: And then what, if any, formal education or training did you have? In college, or anything?

HD: I tried to take a dance class once in college. It was a ballet class and I just don't have the discipline for ballet in general. I, not oddly enough, but if you think about ballet, I have too much of a chest for ballet. And so the positioning sometimes would be so uncomfortable. I couldn't quite get into the pliés with the awkwardness of it. So, I didn't take any other dance classes until I was in my twenties. So from graduating at seventeen until about 00:09:00twenty-one, I hadn't taken a dance class. And then as far as costuming stuff goes, like education-wise? I really loved vintage patterns. I've been collecting vintage patterns on EBay. Somehow my mom has let me have an EBay account for a very long time. And I had been collecting vintage patterns for a long time, and then one year I really wanted to have a cape and I wanted like a Renaissance dress, and my neighbor was a costumer. And my mom kind of taught me a little bit about how to sew on a machine, but my neighbor taught me how to read a pattern and how to cut everything out and what a pattern meant with everything. And so I learned how to know what a grain is and all that stuff just from doing this one item. We didn't do anything more than that. And then I didn't really make 00:10:00anything after that. I sewed a little bit when I was in high school, and then when I discovered Burlesque, there was a lot of DIY in Burlesque as far as costuming goes. I just was like, "Oh yeah, I could do that. Sure, I could do that." And I just started experimenting until I probably couldn't do it, but then I eventually kept doing it until I did.

LL: And so what year and how did you get started in Burlesque?

HD: I got started in Burlesque... Technically, I got started in Burlesque in 2008. I moved to Seattle, I was very young, met another boy, I got married, and it was a very volatile situation, a somewhat abusive situation and very controlling. And I was going to class and I met a woman there who said, "This is my divorce lawyer and you should have him, but also you should come to this 00:11:00Burlesque show. And come Kitten with us because we need someone to help us, and you're cute." And I was like, "Well, I don't know what that is or what that means," and this is something that my ex-husband would never let me do because of that controlling nature. And I was kind of like, "I'm gonna rebel, and that sounds kind of interesting." So I was like, "I'll check it out. I don't really feel comfortable with myself or my body. I don't know if I want to Kitten," not knowing what Kittening was. And I decided to go down to this show for the first time at the... Something, I can't remember what it was called. It was in Seattle. It was with this Sinner Saint Burlesque Troupe, and I came there and I was like, " I'm just going to watch." And they said, "Oh no, we bought you a costume and you're gonna go onstage." So my first Burlesque show I ever saw I was Kittening, which is when you go and they make you dress cute and then pick up the clothes and clear the stage and make sure everything works well. And for about a year, while I was in Seattle, I was watching this show and Kittening, 00:12:00and being like, "Good for them. Good for them. I could never do this. Good for them, so happy. Look at that. I can't believe that person did that."

And then eventually I kind of started seeing all these different bodies and different people doing it and still being entertaining, and maybe not being what was traditionally, societally thought as perfect. I was like, "Well, maybe I could do that. I don't know." And then I wanted to take classes, but the classes in Seattle were out of my price range. And so, when I decided to move to Portland, Seattle at that time in 2008 had a really, still does, but had a really prominent Burlesque scene. And it has a lot to do with the strip clubs because people can't drink in Washington. I think it has a lot- and also there's a lot of talent- but you can drink and go to a Burlesque show. So, it became a little more popular and easier for them to accept this art.


When I went down to Portland, there were seven or eight performers in 2009 that were performing maybe one year before me. And I was like, not to be gossipy, "Oh, you guys aren't very good... Yet." They're actually really good performers if I named them. They're really good performers now, but they were in their first year and I was like, "Oh, no problem. I can be this bad too, it's fine. I can do it together with them." And I didn't take any classes. I debuted with a group of ladies who were doing shows at The Hawthorne. There's a theatre in Hawthorne... Hawthorne Theatre. Theatre in Hawthorne, Hawthorne Theatre. And I debuted with them, and I've just been doing it ever since then. And then a year later, I opened a school which is a whole other story.

LK: Well, why don't you tell us that story?

HD: If you have been performing in Burlesque for a year, it's probably not the 00:14:00smartest thing to be like, "You know what, I'm going to start a school." But there was also really no one in the community. Like I said, there was eight people performing. There was really no one who was teaching. One or two of them had been doing it for two years, one person had been doing it for one year, there was one person who had been doing it for like three years. Everyone was so very new in Portland doing it that no one was teaching. No one was qualified to teach. So, I got an email from someone who said, "Hey, I don't know if you know of anyone who's teaching, but I really wanna take classes." I like teaching, and I was like, "I wanna teach some day." And I was like, "I'm teaching."

And what I did is I gathered an administrator, the most qualified people to teach different aspects in Portland to try to create a collective which we started the Rose City School of Burlesque. That is sort of what started the school. After about a year, maybe two years, I kinda became disenchanted with 00:15:00the school for other reasons which I'll talk about, but when I first started doing Burlesque, I thought I really wanted to be funny and I would do Neo acts, and I realized I wasn't funny. I am actually really funny now in a lot of my numbers, but it's really hard to be funny when you're avoiding being you on stage and that's what was kind of happening. I was using props or trying to use something else without kind of putting the funny back on me. So, I didn't really know how to be funny yet. And so, I would do Neo and I had this conversation with Charlotte Treuse who was really into Classic and she's like, "You do Classic Burlesque." I was like "No, I don't." She was like, "You do Classic Burlesque." And I was like, "No, I don't." She was like, "Take a song that's 00:16:00Classic, do your number that you're already doing because you're doing some modern song, and try it out." And I did it. And that's when I won that award.

LK: What award?

HD: I was accepted to the Great Boston Burlesque Expedition in 2011. And, don't do this, but I'm pretty sure that I didn't submit the music that I said I was going to with what I got accepted. But I looked at the competition and thought, "They look pretty new. They don't look like there's many Classics. I could...I guess Charlotte said I do Classic, so I could try it." And I gave more Classic music for the same number, and then I won Most Classic. And I'm like, "Well, I guess I do Classic," because it's basic movements of dance into a more Classic element.

So, as I'm learning with the school, I'm growing and learning that we didn't 00:17:00know what we were doing with the start of the school. We would teach these long days and I just felt like the students were dissatisfied because they weren't getting dance practice. There's a lot of talking at them, not a lot of practicality. I feel like we didn't really give them critique very often. We were like, "You're great. You just have to love yourself and then everybody will love you," and I don't really agree with that sentiment anymore, and I wasn't feeling super proud of my students because I wasn't able to tell them whether they were doing well or not. So, I kinda just was not feeling really enchanted with that. And so in 2012, I quit Burlesque.

We talk about a Burlesque community, and I don't actually believe in a Burlesque community. I believe it's an industry that we cannot love each other, but we start out in this beginning that we're like, "We love each other, everybody 00:18:00loves..." And it's fine, you don't have to like everyone. That's super normal. We just have to recognize that that's okay. But that's how it was back then, especially when you have such a small community developing. And, so I got disenchanted, and I was like "I don't feel like I belong here," even though I was teaching. "I don't feel like I'm able to tell them when they're not doing well, I don't really want to perform anymore." I sold all of my costumes. I gave the school up and said I'll sign up as the costume teacher. And I, eight months later, I started over. And so, I actually was on a break for only eight months, but I sold my fans, I sold full costumes, I sold it all, and was like I'm not going to do this anymore. And totally came back and still, I've been doing it since 2013.

LK: And so, you started the All that Glitters Dance Studio and Academy.

HD: Yeah, so it was at first the All That Glitters Burlesque Academy. We 00:19:00eventually had a dance studio, which we no longer have. So, in 2013, I was like... I don't know. There was a little bit of animosity between the other school because I wasn't supposed to not be working for them. However, that has been squashed, and I really like the director currently now, but there was a very, tempestuous kind of time that we were a little bit head-to-head. I was like, "What are they doing with my school? You know what, I'm just going to start over." And I'm gonna start a school that tells people, "Hey, don't do this. Hey, do this." Gives them critiques and then makes them do Classic first. And that's still the philosophy, so we ask them to do Classic first just like ballet for dance because if you can do Classic well you can pretty much do 00:20:00anything well. It will help develop you because the focus will be on you versus the focus will be on if you're a mad scientist and you have a million props. So, that's when we started the school.

And then a few years later, I had a crazy idea that I was like, "You know what, I need to have my own dance studio." We started in bars. We started teaching... Rose City started at the Bossanova Ballroom and I bought a bunch of mirrors from a repo center, and we'd pull them all out and do it in the bar, and then have our recitals there. And then we went, we did it at the Analog [bar], when we did All That Glitters. We would just teach in bars because we didn't have the money to rent studios. And then we started to switch to studios and I was like, "I need my own dance studio." And we got it and I lived above it, and it was great for the classes, but we also wanted to teach like weekly classes. And our 00:21:00community wasn't just into taking straight up classes on a consistent basis and it wasn't just affordable to keep having my own studio.

LK: Yeah.

HD: So, we're back to renting and it's totally fine, and it's still successful. It's kind of nicer not to have to stress out about making sure everything's rented all day.

LK: So, what is the curriculum at a Burlesque academy? What classes do you teach and what do they cover?

HD: So, currently our curriculum covers several things. We do have it in six weeks. Rose City was, I think, we went from ten to twelve weeks, to ten. And then I think that they do it eight weeks now, maybe, and that we do six. There's so much information to cover that by the time you get through ten weeks, it's exhausting and I feel like there's a higher dropout rate of being too much information. Six weeks won't cover everything, so what we go through is we start 00:22:00with some basic movements, introductions, history, little bit of history. We ask people to look at different artists for their inspiration. We start with beginning costume concepts with simple, save-your-money, five-feet rules, which five feet from the stage is what looks good. Then we go over a vocabulary of dance, different kinds of things that they can use when they're thinking of their choreography. We make them go over how to enter and exit a stage. We make them go over how to pose, how to deal with when the music just stops on you, or how to deal with when the music repeats on you. And we go over more advanced costuming, hair, makeup, and then we have them create their own acts, which we go and we critique, and we do some one-on-one, as well. But their own acts. We have them choreograph as much as possible and then we kinda do some one-on-ones to help them get on stage.

And our goal for All That Glitters is to get onstage. So in the first class, I 00:23:00always go, "You guys realize you're going to be performing in front of an audience right?" And they go, "No". And I usually say, "You're gonna all perform right? Nod your head. Look in my eyes. We're gonna do it." And they're just like, "[scared voice] I don't know." We have a good turnout of people that do end up performing at the end. Sometimes people drop out, life happens. It's scary, but they all go through the scariness together.

LK: That's great. And do you teach all the classes?

HD: I teach all the classes, but I sometimes have help. I've had some different professors over the time. Currently, I have Kissy LaMay helping me with my classes and she is actually a former student of mine who has graduated both the 101 and the 201 classes. And then I also teach a fan dancing, forward fan dancing workshop. We sometimes have guest instructors come from out of town. We 00:24:00offer workshops through them. Those ones I obviously don't teach, I just kind of facilitate. And then I think that's pretty much it for the teaching of the classes. I do one-on-one sometimes, private lessons.

LK: How many classes a week is that for you?

HD: Right now we just do just one at a time. Sometimes when we do the 201 we do it concurrently with the 101, so it's two classes a week. I don't really have the time to teach too many classes, and we need to make sure that we fulfill enrolment status to make sure that there's enough to make it worth it.

LK: And so, if you don't have the time to teach more classes, what are you doing with the rest of your week?

HD: I am so busy. Let's see. I can give you like what I did this week?

LK: Sure.

HD: I made a caftan, a tee shirt, I made three bras, two pairs of panties, a pair of gloves... This is all orders I had to do, sewing. I did a five-hour 00:25:00photoshoot, coached twenty-two girls on how to do... No, eleven girls on how to do twenty-two poses. Not even twenty-two poses because you have to switch. Those are twenty-two looks that they got approved for those poses. And I run a social club. I take Tahitian and hula dance classes each week. Sometimes, I also work at a club. And then, I also currently am working at a shop where I am taking alterations and doing some alterations, and also potentially going to be putting some of my clothing into the shop.

LK: Wow. So, tell me about your costume business. How did that start?

HD: I started that because I was so excited about making all the costume things when I started Burlesque that I just started making pasties. Pasties were the 00:26:00first thing I started making for other people, and I feel like EmpeROAR Fabulous was the first person I made pasties for. And I also feel like they might still have them. So, I used to make some pasties and then I've had this shop open since 2010. I started putting things on Etsy, doing some basic shrugs. There was, in that time frame, I feel like there was a lot of small little hats and shrugs, and little bustiers, and very Western Burlesque-looking stuff. That was the popular thing, so I would make some of that stuff. And then eventually it sort of came down to sewing underwear, trying the bras, trying to do more Classic style costuming. So, my shop for costuming is very Classic-style orientated with different pantie styles. I have hair flowers, gloves, I make fur 00:27:00boas, sometimes I make vegan organza boas. I make wraps, as well. So, I think sometimes I diversify myself too much. Like I have too many things that I make, so it might be confusing as to all the things I can do, but I'm like, "Yeah, I can probably do that," you know?

LK: Great. So, you talked a little bit about the Burlesque scene here in Portland. How has it changed, if it has, since 2008?

HD: I don't want to toot my own horn completely, but I feel like by having the schools I have been a big part of the expansion, and it wouldn't have happened... I know there's a lot more performers, but they wouldn't have happened if they haven't taken classes. There are definitely performers who are up in Portland that didn't take any of the classes, but for many of the years, I 00:28:00had a hand in a lot of the performers getting out there. And there are performers who still perform today from back when they first started.

So, just the fight we had to go through to get people to come to our shows, which we still have, but because Portland is such a strip heavy place, there would be [news] articles... Oh my gosh, I remember there was an article in the Willamette... Two. One that was talking about how Burlesque is just for fat people to dress up. It was a little blurb saying that... It was probably more like an opinion. It wasn't like someone's article. It was more like when someone, they write in and do their little opinions about just fat people getting to dress up, which was really offensive because of course we all shared it at the time and were like, "Look at this". And then the Willamette [Week, newspaper] was doing this thing... No, Mercury [newspaper.] Not the Willamette. The Mercury was doing this thing where they would try to get people to vote them 00:29:00into the worst events. So like, "Think of the worst event," and they would try to like, whatever was voted the most terrible event, the writer would have to go to it and would have to experience it and write an article. And one of the suggestions they put was a Burlesque event and I remember the producer of one of the big shows at the time was like, "Let's fight this. Let's all vote for this and let's show this person what this is." And they actually rewrote the article and they were like, "I actually had a great time. It was [gibberish]."

It was great because we had been fighting for a long time, and the Mercury and the Willamette are not like that now. We had been fighting for them to come to these shows and experience that it was a lot more fun. But, to be fair, we were all new. We were all inexperienced. It probably wasn't the best shows to come to and probably some of the talent wasn't quite there yet, and that's accurate. But 00:30:00it also was hard to get people who say, "Why would we go to a Burlesque show when we could go to the strip club and see everything?" And trying to explain, "Well, it's more not about the fact that they stripped, but about how they stripped." So, that was a big challenge in the beginning. So, that's one of the things that changed. As far as Burlesque outside of Oregon, or just Burlesque inside of Oregon has changed?

LK: Just, well, if you have an opinion about outside.

HD: I feel like there is a lot more acceptance and I feel like there is not a lot more acceptance in Burlesque bodies. So, we have these two composing- competing, not composing. Competing ideologies of being like, "We need to have more diversity." And that's great. I think that's great, but then we still have our headliners who all look the same. And the same group of people get to do the same things, and it's the same headliners. And so it's frustrating because when 00:31:00you come into Burlesque and you start looking at the people who are being celebrated and they don't look like you, representation matters. And there are definitely performers who don't look like that who are amazing, but are not being showcased still, and they're still fighting for that. So there is still, "Yes, we're going to do those things," but we're still fighting the same exact tropes that happened when the people who win look exactly the same. And that's really frustrating for me and for a lot of people, and in just looking at the body types that you have to fit into to become a headliner.

LK: You talked a little bit about audience. Who have you observed is typically drawn to Burlesque, as an audience?

HD: Oh, I feel like it's for men and women, and like them... it's kind of for everyone. The fashion that happens... I don't know, I think it happens where 00:32:00sometimes possibly the men say, "I wanna see this thing happen," right? And for women, they're like, "I wanna see what they're wearing, and how they got out of that thing." But it's all cheeky and fun, and really I feel like it's a really great audience. I know that when I first started in Burlesque and my mom found out that I did Burlesque, she was like, "I just don't want someone to say something derogatory about you. What if I'm in the audience and they say something terrible about you and I'm next to them. I'm going to punch them. I can't go." And I was like, "They're not like that."

It's a very different audience than more like in the club. That is more likely to have something terrible said to you and you have to be like, "Oh, yeah." But if I have a thing like that said to me in a club, it's so much more choice... I mean, not in a club, but in a Burlesque performance. There's so much more choice of me being like, "You can't talk to me like that." And there is some choice 00:33:00depending on where you are at club-wise, but it's just hard to tell. I think that dancers aren't treated super well in general, but Burlesque performers are treated a lot better, which is unfortunate. However, historically, they weren't treated well either. So, it's because of the revival and some of it has to do with the notion of saying that Burlesque is better than dancing, or that, "I'm not a stripper, I'm a Burlesque performer." And that mentality probably has aided in the better treatment. However, its still hurting the same industry, the same godmother. You know, historically.

LK: So, when did the Oregon Burlesque Festival begin? How did that all come about?

HD: It began in 2013 and a couple of friends, performers, decided that we just 00:34:00wanted to... There was no festival happening in Oregon. There was no other big event. There was no festival happening really in Seattle. There was the Moisture Festival at the time, but nothing else really happening in Seattle. A lot of other places had festivals and we just went, "Why not? Let's do it." And we just decided to put it together and see what happened. We had a connection with a venue, and we did, I think, we did like three nights the first time. We did two different venues, three nights. I remember the venue that we were at in the beginning was like, "Are you sure you need two nights?" And we're like, "Yes, we need two nights." We wanted three at the time, but we need two, at least. And then after, they were like, "You can come back next year." We're like, "Okay."

So, it definitely was an evolution of just a couple friends deciding to do it 00:35:00together. And really, when you decide to do a festival, all of the production is taken on by that team. And all of the financial liability and responsibility is taken on by that team, and so it's really stressful. It's not a really big money-maker, but it was rewarding. I did the artwork for year one, year two, I don't think I did it for... I did paintings. I did big paintings. And then I digitalized them. That was the artwork for those years. I don't think I did it for year three. I think I was like, "I think we should hire someone," at that point. And then I did the artwork this last year too. Yeah.

LK: So, how does one go about putting on a festival? What are the steps? What are the considerations?

HD: I mean, a website. You know, you really got to secure your venue. This is 00:36:00our seventh year, and so what we're doing now is so different from what we were doing then. And it has a lot to do with, again, growing and figuring out what works and what doesn't work. You know, Blast, the last venue's place, they were wonderful. The stage was wonderful. And it's not even their fault, but their backstage was really hard to be in because it's a historic building and historic downtown Portland is old. And honestly, most of downtown Portland probably needs to be torn down and rebuilt. I know that's terrible to say, but when you can smell the sewage from the street, it's rough. So this venue, though, is like a rock and roll venue, right? So, I remember either year two or year three, we had to go back down into the basement because there was drawings, well there were stickers, like band stickers all over the mirrors. So, you can't see yourself. 00:37:00And there was also this drawing of this woman with her legs open. And we were just like, people who are not used to this venue are coming outside from all these other places. They're coming to this kind of grunge rock venue and that's not what they're expecting from a festival. So, we went down there and we were like cleaning all the stickers off, we're like vacuuming, and spraying it. And in the summertime, it doesn't matter what you do, it can smell really bad just because of downtown Portland. Yeah.

So, those are some things that we had to do, some steps that we had to... First, you have to decide your applications: What you want to have, what you can have, how many people that you can have per night, and then it's hours of watching all these videos and trying to figure out... Like I still do this sometimes when you're just watching it and you're like, "Is this good? I can't tell. I've 00:38:00watched seventeen videos. Is this good anymore? I got to stop if I can't tell if this is good. I'm just gonna go back to it." Because you get kind of Burlesque burnt out of just watching it over and over again. One thing I have learned is that if you're not entertaining in the first minute, I don't want to watch the rest of it. And maybe as an audience member that's a big deal, but after watching seventeen videos in a row and nothing's happening for the first minute, you're like, "What is going on?" So, you watch a bunch of videos. You gotta send out a million emails being like, "So sorry, you didn't get in." "Congratulations, you got in." The first several years, the first four years, we didn't pay anyone. We only were able to pay the venue and the headliners. Somewhat, ourselves, as well. You know, that was the hope. You have to pay for posters and all those other things, and all the promotion stuff.

What other steps are there? I mean, getting a Stage Manager, getting people to 00:39:00help you with Kittening, getting people to help you with badges, checking people in, getting your lineup. This venue, we were the person that actually did the music. So, somebody to press play, someone to start songs. Getting your Emcees set up. Who's gonna keep the show rolling? Who's gonna make it entertaining? Who's gonna be able to fill the spot? And, the first few years we had twenty to twenty-five performances a night. It's so long, so you gotta keep rolling. We don't have that many now. I mean, well, actually we did. We had like twenty. We had twenty-two, we still had twenty-two. We went down and then back up, but like the caliber of performers that did apply, we were like, "How can we say no?" So you know, trying to figure all that out. You do get some money when people apply for a festival and that really helps to deal with some of the upfront costs, but 00:40:00in general, it's just a lot of work.

LK: Do you put money up front and then hope to recoup?

HD: Yes. What we've done in the past is held on to some money of what we've made and then kept that, and then put that towards it, too. But, whatever that doesn't cover, we'll put money toward, like if we have to put something on our credit card for a flight. We have to go buy that flight now, we can't wait till we get paid and hope it comes out, we need to buy it. We've got to get the AirBnB for the headliners, we need to get the place they're gonna stay, we gotta put the deposit down on the venue. Those are more considerations that we have to do. We are in a different venue now and they were so happy with us they asked us to come back within two days of the production.

LK: That's amazing. Back in 2008, in the early days when you were starting out in Burlesque, was it a hard sell to educate venues and have them have shows in 00:41:00their bars?

HD: Yeah, I mean, a lot of the things that we had to do, we only had a couple of places to do them. We called it a door-split, where we'd try to figure that all out. Sometimes the venues would try to charge us a lot of money and we were like, "Well, we don't know if we can get people in here." Like what's going to happen with that? It still can sometimes be a hard sell. I recently went to a venue. I was like, "This will be a really great show for you guys. It's gonna be a happy hour show." They're like, "Yes, we want you, but we don't want you to have a door person." And I was like "Will you help us pay for the sound person that you are requiring?" "You can just pay it out of the tips you make." "So, you're not gonna help us pay for the door person?" Like it still continues to be that misunderstanding of trying to figure out how... We can't give you money if we can't charge people, you know? So, I'm still working on that venue. Hopefully 00:42:00we get it because it will be really fun.

LK: So, you mentioned the festival where you won the competition, "Most Classic." Do you still perform at festivals and travel around?

HD: I do! I am leaving for Minneapolis. It's not completely a festival, it's called The Pink and White Ball. It is a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. But you do have to submit. You didn't have to pay to submit, but you do have to submit to be part of it. It is a small honorary stipend to perform there. Not very much, but kind of like an honorary to be in there. And the thing about festivals and not getting paid for them, is we talk about exposure and while I do agree that everybody should get paid, the festival is kind of the best way to get exposure in the way that you wanna get hired in those places again. Because of the festivals I performed in, I have been hired outside in those cities 00:43:00because I've met people. I also just did Theatre Bizarre, which was in Detroit. I did Saint Louis last year for Show Me Burlesque Festival. I did New Mexico. So, last year I did New Mexico, Show Me in Saint Louis, I did Theatre Bizarre, and then I have Minneapolis on my books. And I have applied for a couple other ones, but I don't want to talk about them unless I get in.

LK: So, when you're creating a new piece of Burlesque, what's your process?

HD: Costume. I'll think of something I like, costume-wise, and usually be like, "I'm gonna make a costume of that." However, my last complete act... I made a costume recently to a new act that I haven't made a complete number to. I'm just waiting on finding the right music. But the last complete number I did was Lime in the Coconut, and they... Oh no, I did a Lucy act just recently. I just did an 00:44:00I Love Lucy act with Vitameatavegamin and I had that costume piece for two years. I just didn't know what I was doing with it. So, I'll just make costumes sometimes and just hold on to them. Or I'll be in the middle of different things and then make it into something. But with Lime in the Coconut, I was like, "I want another Tiki-type number. Wouldn't it be funny if I was like doing this thing where I was a coconut and every time I pulled something off, a bunch of limes came out?" And so, I come out with a big huge coconut on my head, and I open up the coconut and there's a big, huge lime inside. Take off my gloves, they're brown, and there's limes all over my arms. My skirt unravels completely and then my corset comes off, and I have a coconut shell bra, and more limes. All the limes. So yeah, definitely though when I create something new, it has a 00:45:00lot to do with costuming first. Costume forward. Some people are music forward. I'm usually not. They'll hear a song and be like, "I wanna do this song and make it a thing." But I actually have one number right now that's song forward that I'm waiting to figure out the costume. We'll see how that goes.

LK: You've mentioned Tiki dances and now a Tiki costume. What is it about that aesthetic that appeals to you?

HD: It's totally an escapist vibe. We live in the Pacific Northwest. It's very rainy. I really like the idea of the flowers, the tropics, the water. I don't like the beach. I love the ocean. So, I like being in the water and swimming, but I don't like being sandy. So, the whole Tiki thing is this whole other vibe. I think it's okay. I like learning about all this stuff, I like doing Tiki stuff. I do think that if you do like Tiki, you should be educated with all the things that are wrong with Tiki. Meaning that there were a lot of historically 00:46:00terrible things that happened in the Polynesian cultures because of colonization. And it's really important to know that you can enjoy the good parts of stuff as long as you know the history so you don't repeat the history.

LK: And so that's an aspect of the cultural appropriation conversation that people are having.

HD: Yeah. I mean, in my retro stuff and lifestyle, I like the retro vibes. I don't ever wanna live in the fifties. I like the clothing and the designs and the shapes, but I don't want to continue those values. Retro styles, not retro values, and that has to do with... Cultural appropriation is a really hot button in Burlesque because there's like cultural appreciation, cultural appropriation. How do you deal with liking something that you love that you're not a part of necessarily? And try to be inspired by it. It's a really fine line, and you have 00:47:00to figure out what do you decide to educate yourself on? Are you taking a full thing? Are you disrespecting it? Are you making fun of it?

LK: So, that leads us into diversity. Portland and Oregon is a pretty white state.

HD: I was about to say it's not diverse. Not very diverse.

LK: Right, you're in a position of... You're educating in your school, you're running a festival. How do you achieve addressing diversity in what you do?

HD: It can be really difficult as someone who is a white cis female. I can only recognize my privilege so much where it's like, I can recognize it and try to do stuff, but I can't solve everything. I can only be out there like, "Yes, I will listen," you know? But some of the things that have been really neat that we've 00:48:00been implemented is adding a POC free application period, and for that just being able to allow people who have been systematically just treated poorly to have more opportunity without having to pay. There's always reasons why it's a lot more expensive a lot of times for POCs. So, that has really been great. And that I credit to a couple of my team members who are POCs, for being like, "We should do that," and me being like, "Oh, yeah! That sounds great." And I didn't even think about that before. It wasn't my idea. And having that in there, I was like, "This has been the most diverse festival we've ever had."

I do typically always have POCs in my Burlesque shows, and I don't pick them 00:49:00because they're POC, but I'm also like, "Hey, you're amazing. Come be part of my show". The hard part is that there's not... There is a good amount, but it's hard not to pick the same people because there's not a ton of people in Portland who are Burlesque performers who I can be like, "Let's do this thing." I mean, I wanna be well-rounded in all my shows, in both diversity racially and body. Because that also is a big thing I notice, when they all have the same look in the show, whether they're POC or not, they all have the same skinny body. I notice that, too. So I try to think about that when I'm casting. I also still want to have the same caliber for all my performers regardless of what's happening, so there's a lot of different challenges. I believe that every body, like body type, can be a good Burlesque performer, but not everybody can be. So, just because of those things doesn't mean you're a good performer. Same thing as 00:50:00there are skinny, white women who perform who I don't think are very good, yet they do get more opportunities, unfortunately, because of that, which is really frustrating.

But trying to put that out there, I mean I just try to add inclusion in all the things I do. One of the things that I really wanted in year four of the festival was I didn't want a white woman... For the first two to three years. I was painting them. I painted what I know, right? Like, I know myself. But I also was like, "I don't want a white woman as the color to represent the festival." So, I got an artist in somewhere to paint three women, and they were purple and pink 00:51:00and blue. And then the other one from the year before, I think she was still white. I really, I just didn't want a white woman to represent the logo of the festival. I also, for my pin-up group, we're doing faces and I wanted to not just have two white women, but have a girl with pink hair and a girl who is a POC, but also I cut off their bodies so you didn't have to judge what their body type was, and you just judged them by the top half. So you're not like, "Oh, are they really tiny and that's what you're doing?" And that way we can have more body-inclusivity, as well.

LK: So, people in Burlesque say it empowers them. What's your take on that?

HD: I think it can empower people. I think that it definitely... I think it's a 00:52:00weird conversation to have or to see when Burlesque is your therapy and it's not about the audience. What happens is, I believe, if you love your audience they will love you back, but if you just love yourself onstage you're just, excuse the term, you're just masturbating onstage and I don't want to watch you do that. I wanna watch you interact and be part of it. And so, sometimes it empowers people in a way that can be negative, but I think most of the time... I mean in the, "I'm the best, I'm everything." But I think most of the time it allows a platform for typically, I'm gonna say, typically female performers or female Identified performers to not be repressed societally by what's going on with just being told that they're not allowed to be naked, they're not allowed to show their bodies, they should be ashamed of what they're doing. And that is 00:53:00really empowering to be like, "No, I can do whatever I want." This should be normal. This shouldn't be something that we have to hide or be ashamed of. My skin shouldn't be something that we're ashamed of. I should be ashamed of the violence that's happening. Not the thing that's happening that's a natural part of human behavior. And that can be really empowering, I think, for a lot of people.

And also just being able... That's why I say being able to see all these body types. But what happens that I see negatively is that sometimes we see the same body type. And yeah, it's empowering because you get to do that thing, but then you're like [sigh]. Why, why is it that? Why is it that one type? That one person type that is happening and getting the headlining spots? And so, that can be really frustrating. And I mean, I don't really know how to combat that, you know? Because that's what gets hired. I don't think that's what all people want 00:54:00to see, and I feel like that's a testament to when you see a show and you see a performer who is not whatever you expect it to be and you're like, "That was amazing." Because we are not all the same shape, and we are not all the same size, and we are not all the same everything else.

LK: And so that, what you're talking about, dovetails into how Burlesque can be a force for social change.

HD: Yeah, yeah, for sure. With social change, there is festivals that have gone down who refuse to participate in social change, who refuse to recognize things that are possibly problematic. And it is really important to... If there's something wrong or you're hurting someone, to be like yeah, maybe that wasn't your intention, but you still hurt them. So, why can't you do something about 00:55:00that? Doubling down is just the worst thing and I see it so many times. And so we've a lot of times bonded together. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than it should, but bonded together to be like, "Hey, this is not okay to have something that depicts somewhat racial aspects." I mean, there are performers in France who are still doing black face and don't see what the problem is. I understand that maybe it's because they haven't been in this culture and weren't able to see how hurtful that is because they're completely separated, and they don't understand the history of what black face is, because it is a whole history. But at the same time, the inability to recognize that you are still being hurtful is really difficult. And I think we have a lot of voices in Burlesque to make a 00:56:00social change and say, "That's not okay."

LK: So, that leads into the second to last question about what are the challenges facing Burlesque today?

HD: Some of the challenges are oversaturation, and what is our market to get people out in the stands. I try not to put too much stuff on YouTube, and that has a lot to do with I want you to come to the show. You know, I don't want you to watch one of my things on YouTube. Television was the original and movie theatres was the original thing that killed Burlesque in the first place, and if we're just going to give away that content, why do they have to come out to go see it? I mean, that's what's hurting live theatre, too.

And the oversaturation part of it is we are... I don't think it's wrong to 00:57:00educate and have people join Burlesque classes. It's super fun and amazing. We also need to produce and hire the people that are going to continue to perpetuate good performances, but allow... Continue teaching to get them there, as well. So what happens is there's a lot of shows happening at the same time, and what do you go to? What's a good show to see? In general, I feel like the producers here have gotten to be a little more picky, which I am grateful for in the way of seeing a showcase and going, "Okay, most of these performers I enjoyed watching," which is great. The person, Joe Schmo down the street, who comes in the audience and is like, "I've never seen a Burlesque show. Okay, this is what a Burlesque show is." That's what I think about when I do my shows. When there's someone who's never experienced it and they see a show, and if they don't know it's a bunch of inexperienced people, what are they gonna... But I also want to give a platform to be like, "Hey, this is the newbie showcase, or this is a thing." Because then they know and they're like, "They're doing this 00:58:00for the first time, and they're like just starting to do this. And they're getting that experience." Because how can you get better if you don't get those experiences?

So, that's one of the biggest challenges, too. Especially different states, figuring out how to navigate that and getting butts in the seats, as well as undercutting. And undercutting happens when a performer says, "You should pay me this much money." And then newbie over here says, "I'll do that for half as much or free." And not valuing that time. And that happens in a lot of industries, honestly. Almost every industry has somebody trying to come in and get the opportunity, and eventually that doesn't really work out for anyone. So, that has always been a challenge. The amounts of money that was being paid before is definitely not the same as it is now, so. You can't make, I don't think you can make a living being a Burlesque performer. Just a Burlesque performer, no other 00:59:00avenue of income. There's very few people who are only performing, not teaching, and just touring. Very few people. Even Dita Von Teese has other avenues of income.

LK: So, final question: What do you wish the general public would know about Burlesque? Or understand?

HD: I don't know if it's... I mean, it sounds so serious what I was talking about before, but it is a lot of fun to experience. I mean, you feel like you're part of something verses... Sometimes when you're in a theatre watching something, you're just watching the show and you're just in your little world. But you're involved, you're a part of the show in this kind of theatre. So, it's a lot more exciting. And sexuality is funny, sexuality is silly, sexuality is serious. So, having that up there is kind of just getting a human experience. And getting to laugh and have levity about the whole situation. Or even sometimes performance art can be really serious. Burlesque...a lot of feelings 01:00:00when you watch a show. And most of the time they're good, whether it's medium quality to high. So, it's really fun to go out there and see a show, and I would like the general public to... I mean, that's a really wide range, but the judgment of dancing and what it is, it's not so high in Portland or in Oregon, I feel. Like we're pretty open minded, which is really wonderful about this area. But outside of here in some places... The blue laws that restrict women's bodies are really upsetting and I don't feel like we should have them the way that we do a lot of other places. They're restricting something that is super natural.

LK: Great. Thank you so very much. Thank you for doing this.


HD: Yeah, thank you.